Posted in Book Reviews

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – Review

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Book 3 of 2020

I finished this book for the second time last night. The first time I read it was right after it was published in 2005. Since then, I have gotten married and successfully turned my husband into a Potterhead although he resisted for many years, and he still refuses to read the books. My daughters are also big fans of the series. My oldest has read most of the series, and I’m currently reading the Chamber of Secrets illustrated version to my youngest.

Since it had been so long since I originally read the book and have seen the movie about a dozen times, I forgot how much was in this book.

If you are like my husband, and you constantly ask questions during the movies about backstories or motivations of characters, I highly recommend reading all the books, but especially this one.

I found myself taking notes! Yes, notes, as I was reading all the information about Voldemort’s backstory that I had forgotten. I also love that Dumbledore finally starts letting Harry in on information he should have been given years before.

The conflict Draco feels, man, I wish he would have taken Dumbledore up on his offer. I love how Rowling writes it because you almost feel like he will.

As I read the last three chapters, I just couldn’t stop myself from crying, even knowing what was going to happen. This is a huge credit to Rowling. She created a story and characters that readers connect to and love.

It’s hard to write much more that hasn’t already been said. I can’t wait to read this one again, but for now, it’s on to book 7.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Skyward Book Review

Ugh. The biggest book of the possible Trumans for 2020-2021 school year. Of course, it was a science fiction book. Gag. Sorry, it’s just not my favorite genre. I just can’t get into the space stuff. And spacecrafts and jargon I don’t understand.

This was going to be torture. I picked it up the week before Christmas break and read the first chapter. I told my co-teacher, that the first chapter reminded me of the beginning of Hunger Games, when Katniss is out hunting for her family. That’s basically how this book starts, with the main character, Spensa, out hunting rats.

I put it down over Christmas break to knock out three smaller books from the list since the voting was quickly approaching. I picked it back up on New Years.

And something crazy happened. I found myself enjoying science fiction. I never wanted to put it down, but, you know, work, family, basketball coaching; I had to put it down.

Spensa is an interesting character. Her father has been label a coward due to actions as a fighter pilot in the Battle of Alta, and we quickly learn that this label attaches to Spensa as well. All she has ever wanted is to be a pilot, and shockingly she gets her chance.

I was captivated by this book and was reading it during SSR (silent, self-selected reading) at school when one of my most liked characters died. I slammed the book shut, and scared a few of my students. I told them I didn’t want to read it anymore. Surprisingly, the students who struggle with reading were the ones who encouraged me to keep going. (I was never going to quit it, but it was nice to be encouraged to read.)

I am not going to give away any spoilers. Just know that this is the first book in a series, so if you like it as much as I do, you’re dedicating yourself to multiple books.

My favorite part of this book is a character that you may not suspect. This character gave a LOT of comic relief in a book with a lot of sadness and frustration with a society that seemed to be fighting a losing battle.

I definitely recommend this book for anyone who likes dystopian novels. That’s what it felt like to me. Also, while you can sense there may be a budding relationship, there isn’t a ridiculous romance that happens.

Voting ends tomorrow for the Trumans. I ended up only missing one: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. If it makes the top 12, I’ll read it, but I am welcoming the break from YA books…at least until the list of 50 comes out for the 2021-22 school year this May.

Posted in Personal Journal

New year, more books

I’m sitting here with my oldest as we wait to ring in the new year. This is always the time of year when people think about what they can do differently, how they can improve themselves, and I am no different than everyone else. I’ve already committed to getting healthy, saving money, and making necessary improvements to our home. But I also wanted to change how I approach the books I read during the year.

My reading goal this year is at least 75 books, about 6 books a month. Instead of mindlessly going to the library, and picking out random books, I’m dedicating the first of every month to laying out the books I plan to read that month. I still plan on reading young adult books so that I can help my middle school students find books that speak to them, but I am going to read more genres!!

Here’s my list for January:

Drum Roll, Please – Truman possible. I tried to read this one this summer, and I was so bored. Hoping it picks up a little more.

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Skyward. I’ve started this one, and I am enjoying it so far. Another possible Truman, and given the first few chapters, I wouldn’t be surprised if it made the list.

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The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. This is the last possible Truman that I need to read, but the copy our school library had is lost, and I keep forget to reserve it from my public library. Doing it today! I have only heard good things from those who have read it, so I’m looking forward to it.

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One of my dear friends, Sam, gave me the coolest poster for Christmas where I scratch off the books that I have read. I THINK the books are the top sellers; I’m really not sure. There are a lot of classic novels, but a few more recent books as well. One of the books on the list that my co-teacher said I HAD to read was The Princess Bride. Adding that one to the list for January.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama. I’m going to finally finish this!

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Harry Potter book was on my list each month. Between me re-reading the series for myself and reading the series for the first time with my youngest, I am bound to be reading on each month.

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My Hero Academia. My oldest is really in to anime and graphic novels. She loves this series, so I told her I would try it out.

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I cannot wait to see what this year brings. Happy New Year, and happy reading!

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Double Review – Squint and Nightbooks

I listened to both of these books over the last two days. These two books will definitely be on the list that I recommend for the Truman list for 2020-21.

It isn’t easy for me to listen to books, but given my current travel situation, I didn’t really have an option. I cannot read while moving. But both of these audiobooks were performed well, and both kept my attention the entire time.

I’m going to skip over the summaries this time because tons of other people have written summaries, and I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t been said without giving away major parts of the plots.

Reasons I loved Squint:

1. The main character was REAL. He had real, common middle school struggles (plus one not-so-common problem). He could have been any one of my students. A little awkward. Super creative. Self-doubting.

2. The minor characters are fantastic. They are well-written and exactly like middle school students. I need to do a little more research on the authors, but I would not at all be surprised if one or both of them taught middle school at some point.

3. The comic that the main character writes is really great.

4. I just really loved this story. It was definitely a feel-good book, even with a couple sad moments. I think middle school students will really love this book. Since I listened to it, I can’t speak to how it was written, or how long the chapters are (since a lot of my students get discouraged if the chapters are too long). But I think it will keep their attention, especially with the comic book references. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this book.


Reasons I loved Nightbooks

1. It was so scary! Okay, so not in an adult, Criminal Minds type of scary. But definitely middle school scary.

2. The characters were soooooo well developed.

3. I knew what would happen with the main character, but I had NO IDEA what the witch’s backstory was going to be. I love when a young adult book surprises me, and I don’t figure it out in the first few chapters.

4. The scary stories that are written by the main character, Alex, were super creepy.

The only negative I have with this book is that it wasn’t the most ideal book to listen to. In the parts where the main character is telling one of his own creepy stories, there isn’t any indication that it isn’t part of the main story. So if you are sort of half-listening, it can be confusing. The other part that was hard because of the audio is when the main character is reading a book with extra writing in it. It was really hard to tell from the audio what parts were the main story, the book being read, or the extra writing in the book. Confused? Yeah, me too, a little.


So, if you’re looking for a feel-good young adult novel, pick up Squint. If you’re wanting to be creeped out, Nightbooks is perfect.

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

I Am Still Alive – Book Review

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First and foremost, know that I am going to give you a spoiler during this review. I just finished this book. Literally. It is still sitting within a few inches of me as I knew I needed to get my thoughts down as soon as I finished.

I have been making my way through the list of books that are up for next school year’s Truman nominees since this summer. I believe I have about 7 left now. This book was one that intrigued me from the very beginning, but I wasn’t able to get to until recently.

My friend who is also reading these books referred to is as the “better Alaskan one”. (I reviewed the other book set in Alaska here.)

You know from the very first page that the main character, Jess, is alone in the wilderness. Within the first few pages, the reader learns that Jess’s mom has been killed in a car crash (one that also involved and injured Jess), and she is being forced to move with her dad, who she barely knows, in Alaska. At least that’s what is told to her, her dad actually lives somewhere else, although we never get the exact location. Somewhere north. Somewhere in the wilderness. Somewhere alone.

The first half of the book goes back and forth between “before” and “after.” Before her father died, and after. I won’t get into the subplot of the story, because that will give away too much. The second part of the book is where the story really picks up.

Here are my thoughts – many middle school students will not get into this book. It took a long time for the story to really develop into much more than girl vs. nature. In fact the vast majority of the book is simply describing what she is doing while alone in the Northern wilderness. My students would not be able to make it through this book because there are just paragraphs and paragraphs of description.

Now, as an adult who has developed better reading stamina…okay, just kidding, I, too, had a hard time reading every word on every page. I ended up skim reading a lot of it.

Apparently Ben Affleck is going to make it in to a movie. I do think this book could be turned in to a great, suspenseful movie. As a book intended for middle school students, it wasn’t the greatest.

Oh, and the dog dies, so don’t get attached.

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

Mascot – Book Review

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Back in October, I was looking for a book to read aloud to my two reading classes. These classes are full of students who are two grade levels or more behind grade level. One of the biggest struggles for these readers is they fatigue and have a hard time finishing a book. Many of them didn’t have parents who read out loud to them, or if they did, stopped at too early of an age. It is vitally important to read to your kids, even your middle school kids (and I would dare say, many of your high school kiddos could benefit from it as well). By reading out loud and finishing a book, it helps the students realize that they can succeed in reading a book and persevering through it. This will hopefully encourage them to do it on their own as well.

So in my search for a book that my students would enjoy, and one that was on my to-read list, I found this one. Antony John does a fantastic job of channeling the brain of a 7th grade boy. The main character, Noah, is in a wheelchair. The result of a horrible car accident that took the life of his dad. (Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything with this. You find this out within the first chapter or two.) Noah is from St. Louis and a big baseball fan (and former player). Thus the Arch and the cardinal on the cover.

The story weaves through Noah trying to navigate new friendship, old friendships, his injury, emotions around losing his father, and his mom’s new “friend”. There are a lot of emotional elements throughout this book, but John uses middle school humor and some grown up insight to wade through them without making it too heavy. I definitely recommend this for middle schoolers.

I brought this book home over break, so my students haven’t finished it yet. I’m interested to see how they will react to the last part of the book. Many of them have predicted that Noah will walk again. I won’t give that away here though!

Posted in Book Reviews, Possible Truman Nominees 2020-21

The Colors of the Rain – Book Review

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Let me start with the good. Since I haven’t done a review in a while, I don’t want to start with negativity.

The story within this book is amazing. It starts with our main character driving by an accident with his mom and sister. The reader finds out within a few pages that the accident would changed their lives forever. The story is told strictly from the point of view of the main character, Paulie. He’s an upper elementary aged boy with an older sister and dog. He lives with his mom, his grandparents live across the road, and his aunt lives nearby and takes care of the kids when the mom can’t.

The story is set in Texas during a time when desegregating the schools was still happening. In Texas it happened a little slower than other areas.

I enjoyed the story, and I think students could learn a lot from this book.

Now for the negative. Spoilers ahead, so stop here if you don’t want to know.

The book is written in free verse, which seems to be a trend in YA books lately. Sometimes I love it. I did not love it in the book. It never flowed well. It was more stream of consciousness than free verse. I felt annoyed while reading because I loved the story, but the way it was written just irritated me. I am probably in the minority when it comes to this, though. Don’t let the fact that it’s written in verse deter you from reading it, let the next point deter you!

THE DOG DIES. This book is dead to me now. I cannot handle the dog dying especially when the dog is the only friend the kid has.

Okay, it probably isn’t great of me to judge the book this harshly just because the dog dies, but I hate it when the dog dies! It also probably doesn’t help that we just had to put one of our dogs to sleep recently.

I would recommend this book despite my negative feelings. It has good messages throughout the book about acceptance, love, forgiveness, among other things. I know some of my middle school students would really enjoy this book, so I will probably rate it well when the recommendations start in January.